NEW ON MY NIGHTSIDE TABLE are three books I read about in recent editions of The New Yorker. All sounded wonderful in those mini-reviews, as well as to be books from which we could all learn a thing or two about writing memoir. Here they are.
The Daily Beast refers to Alexander Stille’s new book, The Force of Things, A Marriage in War and Peace, as “the perfect perspective on the 20th-century American experience.” Oh, okay, I’m in, particularly after being a huge fan of Stille’s writing in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The New York Times. In its smallest sense, the book looks at his parents’ marriage and how his parents tried to transcend their origins. At its largest, the book takes a historical sweep of immense breadth. Like so many of my student, Stille is armed with his parents’ love letters. Dangerous stuff, always, and many times this provides little more than an insurmountable burden to the writer. What he does with them is remarkable. I am recommending this book to all of my students who are writing memoir featuring their parents to help those writers learn how to take a step back while at the same time digging deep.
Shouting Won’t Help, by New York Times’ writer Katherine Bouton is a memoir of her adult-onset hearing loss in which she not only performs an enormous service by providing statistics and relevant new research, but also interviews other hearing-impaired people who offer fascinating insights into how this loss reshapes lives. I didn’t know that hearing is our fastest sense, did you? There is so much more here in this beautifully-written book. Go get it.
Walking Home, Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way, Simon Armitage’s new book, combines memoir and poetry, which for me holds the same delight as tea, crumpets and a rainy UK day. In other words, utter perfection. Armitage traveled the 256-mile route without a penny in his pocket, giving poetry readings along the way. I usually dislike any kind of parlor game memoir, where someone does something merely to write about it. Not this time. Love this, love the writer. Maybe it’s because he faces huge challenges along the way. Maybe it’s the poetry, maybe it’s because I get to go into so many pubs. Perhaps it is nothing more than how very much I delight in the bleak journey with its rain and sheep and Scottish sensibility. You tell me.